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Animal rights activists speak out after truck driver charged in death of protester in Burlington

Regan Russell, a longtime animal rights activist, was killed during a demonstration outside of a pork processing plant in Burlington, Ont., on June 19.
Regan Russell, a longtime animal rights activist, was killed during a demonstration outside of a pork processing plant in Burlington, Ont., on June 19. Toronto Pig Save

Animal rights advocates are condemning the charge laid by Halton Regional Police against a transport truck driver in connection with the death of a protester outside of a pork processing plant in Burlington, Ont., last month.

Regan Russell, a longtime animal rights activist, was killed during a Toronto Pig Save demonstration outside of the Fearman’s Pork processing plant on June 19.

The driver, a 28-year-old man from the area of North Perth, faces a charge of careless driving causing death.

Halton Regional Police say their investigation included interviews of several witnesses, a technical reconstruction of the collision outside of the plant at Harvester Road and Appleby Line, and a review of video footage.

Investigators also say there are no grounds to indicate it was an intentional act.

Witnesses have said the 65-year-old activist was trying to give water to pigs inside of a trailer entering the meat processing facility shortly before she was hit.

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Read more: Pedestrian fatally struck by transport truck entering Burlington pork plant, police say

Anita Krajnc, co-founder of Toronto Pig Save, said the charge isn’t strong enough to address what happened to Russell.

“We’re shaken by these weak, feeble charges on the part of the Halton police,” Krajnc told Global News. “They do not amount to justice.”

The group is calling on Halton police to release the video footage of the incident, which Krajnc said shows the driver intentionally drove into Russell.

“He knew the drill. We’ve been doing vigils at Fearman’s in Burlington for nine years. Trucks stop slowly and stop at the entrance. And Regan Russell was standing at the entrance when she was run over and hit by the truck. He had been stalled at the lights about 100 feet away and stopped there for a few sets of lights, and then he accelerated and drove into her. So we feel that criminal charges should have been laid because there’s intent to harm.”

Read more: Animal rights group pushes for safety agreement with Burlington pork plant (2018)

Shane Martinez, criminal lawyer for Toronto Pig Save, said it would be a step forward in providing transparency and accountability if police were to release the footage.

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“There may be speculation and guesswork by some members of the public on either side of this as to what actually took place, but by releasing the video, we are able to obtain a great deal of clarity about what actually happened,” said Martinez.

The charges also come several days after the group launched a petition supporting Russell’s family in their call for a coroner’s inquest into her death.

An inquest would accomplish two significant goals, according to Martinez: it would shed light on what actually happened that day as well as allow a jury to provide recommendations on how to prevent similar deaths from happening in the future.

“We know that Regan’s death is not something that happened as an isolated incident in and of itself,” said Martinez. “There’s been numerous complaints in the past by people who were bearing witness at these vigils that they had almost been struck by transport trucks entering the facility. Complaints were made by members of the Animal Save movement to the company, and also to Halton Regional Police.

“Unfortunately, it seems as though those complaints were not acted upon to the fullest extent that they could have been, and then we see what happened here to Regan.”

A spokesperson for Sofina Foods Inc., which runs the Fearman’s plant, said the company has “fully cooperated” with the police investigation, despite the driver not being an employee and the accident taking place on public property.

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“In January 2018, Sofina Foods initiated a dialogue around safety and subsequently engaged in multiple attempts, mediated by the Halton police, to reach a formal protest protocol with all parties that ensures the safety of transport, livestock and protestors,” wrote Sofina Daniele Dufour in an email to Global News on Monday.

“We once again express our sincere condolences to the family and friends affected by this tragedy.”

However, a spokesperson for Animal Save Movement says Sofina has not initiated a safety dialogue with group even though they reached out ‘multiple times.’

” ‘Save’ attempted to negotiate a safety agreement multiple times by email, but there was no response except an attorney letter demanding that contact cease,” said Gary Smith from Evolotus PR, “Save representatives met with Halton police on at least two occasions and were presented with suggested “protocols” that violated the civil rights of protestors.”

Organizers with the Animal Save Movement will be holding a rally in front of Halton Regional Police headquarters in Oakville on Tuesday morning, urging police to reconsider the charges laid against the driver and release the video footage of the incident.

Police clash with protesters, media in heated confrontation following accident with truck transporting pigs
Police clash with protesters, media in heated confrontation following accident with truck transporting pigs